ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Prefecture–Frustrations remain high for many of the tens of thousands of displaced victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake, who just want a place to call home.
Two and a half years after the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami, 103,600 survivors of the disaster still live in temporary housing units in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
Haruko Omi, 88, and her friend Toshie Inoue, 70, moved to their current provisional housing unit in Ishinomaki last year from another temporary unit in the same city.
The two, who live together, found the previous unit, with its two 4.5-mat tatami rooms, too small because the special-care bed for Inoue, who is certified by the government as physically disabled, required a large amount of space.
As a result, Omi was forced to sleep on a futon spread on the floor. The problem is Omi is also certified as an elderly person in need of long-term care and support.
“With my hips and legs getting weaker, it was difficult to even get up from the futon,” Omi said.
They wanted to live in a public housing unit being built specifically for disaster survivors, but the project has moved slower than planned. They were told the apartment would not be ready until 2014 at the earliest.
Omi and Inoue reluctantly moved to the current temporary housing, which is only just slightly bigger than the previous unit. It has one six-mat room and a 4.5-mat room.
Still, the extra space means Omi now has room for a bed of her own. “Now it’s easier to get up,” she said.
In Ishinomaki, about 15,000 disaster survivors still live in temporary housing. Even if they find their unit has become too small due to circumstances that may include caring for the elderly or a newborn child, the most they can hope for is finding another unit not much larger than their current residence.
At present, about 80 households are still waiting for temporary housing units to become available.
Meanwhile, some residents who evacuated to other prefectures after the disaster are returning, and they too find themselves forced to live in provisional housing.
Keiko Fukuda, 34, evacuated to Yamagata, where her relatives live. She returned to Ishinomaki in March with her two children. “I thought I could no longer live in Ishinomaki” after witnessing the tsunami, she said.
But as things began to settle last year, the desire to return to Ishinomaki, her long-time place of residence, started to grow. She also worried about her mother, who had already returned to the neighboring town of Onagawa, in Miyagi Prefecture.
Fukuda moved back only after her eldest daughter, 13, graduated from elementary school.
Now she is living in a unit with two small rooms, meaning her children do not have a room to call their own.
“It’s a pity for a child of that age (not to have their own room),” she said.
With prospects dim for a move into a public housing unit for disaster victims any time soon, Fukuda said, “I cannot alleviate the anxiety that plagues me about my future.”
In Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, the school grounds of the municipal Daiichi Junior High School house temporary units for local disaster victims.
After his class ends, second-year student Haruto Saito, 13, with a tennis racket in hand, makes the five-minute walk downhill to temporary athletic grounds set up at the former site of a sake brewery destroyed by the tsunami.
He occasionally wishes he could return to the old school grounds where he now lives with his parents, grandparents and younger sister in provisional housing.
His mother, Hiromi, 39, said, “This is the site where the school used to hold its athletic meets. I hope we could return it to children as soon as possible.”
Their temporary unit consists of a six-mat tatami room, two 4.5-mat tatami rooms and a kitchen; not enough room to secure a sleeping space or a place to study.
The family couldn’t move out even if they wanted to. They are hoping to build a new house on the hill behind the junior high school, but it would take at least 18 months.
Worse, there is no guarantee the Saito family will be able to build a house there, with applicants outnumbering projections on the amount of available land for housing.
Hiromi is worried: “We only want to secure a place to live.”
In Rikuzentakata, about 5,000 residents live in 53 temporary housing complexes. Of those, 10 are located on the grounds of elementary and junior high schools.
According to the city board of education, the decrease in available space where children can exercise and play sports is impacting their physical abilities. The city has a total of 12 elementary and junior high schools.
According to figures released by the National Police Agency on Sept. 10, 15,883 people in 12 prefectures lost their lives in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and aftershocks, with 2,654 people still missing in six prefectures. A total of 6,146 people were injured in 20 prefectures.